Dell's XPS range of laptops represents the company's top of the line products - the z series comes in a slimmer form factor than it's bulkier cousins. The XPS 15z looks very stylish - reminds one of Apple's designs - and comes with a hardware configuration that looks really good on paper - this Dell XPS 15z unit we received is the higher spec'd of the two units available from Dell. So let's see how this premium product fares through our tests.
The Dell XPS 15z unit has an anodized aluminium casing and sports a silver-grey matte finish with chrome linings bordering the edges of the chassis as well as the touchpad - the colour choice once again reminds me of Apple's products. The silver colour covers the thin backlid and the laptop's sides and base, with the grey finish being seen on the top chassis area - a black bezel borders the screen, providing some contrast to the comparatively light colouring of rest of the unit.
The XPS 15z has certain unique design choices, which adds to its distinctive look. The audio grilles have a diagonally patterned design - this design is also used for the exhaust vents that are located at the rear and at the top base area of the laptop. The overall design of the unit is simple and very stylish - although, I did feel that the barrel-like hinge's appearance seemed to be out of sync with the sleek look of the rest of the laptop.
The power button is centrally located above the keyboard, towards the top of the chassis, and centrally placed below the hinge - Dell sticks to a minimalist design with no other 'fancy' alternate-functionality keys located on the main chassis body other than the power button and the keyboard keys. The rear of the laptop chassis is all so slightly raised - the screen is not located at the very edge of the laptop, but is placed just in front of the rear edge. The screen hinges are positioned in an area that is slightly depressed in relation to its surroundings.
The XPS 15z's edges and corners are well rounded and smooth-edged and the unit weighs in at 2.5 kg. In terms of build quality, the laptop has a solid construction.
There is a 1.3MP webcam located at the top central section of the screen bezel. The 15z's speakers are located at the top of the laptop chassis, positioned to the left and right of the keyboard. There is a button located at the left side of the laptop that, when pressed, indicates the level of the battery charge by accordingly lighting up five LED lights, that are located towards it's left side - if the battery charge is at 100 % all the lights light up and so on and so forth.
The hinge has vertical lines etched on it, and one these lines lights up when the laptop is connected to the adapter - handy feature letting the user know whether the laptop is running on the battery or on the connected power supply.
The laptop features 4 rubber stands at its base that are circular in shape and flat on their top section, and which consequently don’t cause any discomfort when keeping the laptop on your lap - as opposed to the more protruding stands seen on other laptops
The 15.6-inch glossy Full-HD screen (native resolution of 1920x1080) provides for a bright display - the glossy nature of the screen can be an irritant under certain lighting conditions. The viewing angles are generally good: the horizontal (left and right) viewing angles are comparatively good, with a slight lessening in the picture vibrancy when one moves away from the screen centre; the bottom vertical viewing angle produces a dark shading over the picture when seeing the display from an angle other than a centrally positioned one; the top vertical viewing angle also produces a colour distortion when viewed from a position other than a centrally positioned one. The XPS 15z's screen can be tilted to almost 130 degrees backward - helping you to a certain extent in choosing the ideal viewing position relative to the screen.
The Dell XPS 15z uses a backlit chiclet keyboard with curved keys but, unlike other laptops with similar dimensions, lacks a dedicated numpad. Furthermore, Dell doesn’t provide for the associated number keys to be available as an alternate functionality on top of existing alphabetic keys - a design choice that is rather unfortunate. The resultant saved-up space is instead used for accommodating the audio grills at either sides of the keyboard. The keys are well spaced and have a soft tactile feel - that lends itself to users having a very comfortable typing experience - and are very responsive. While not exactly a drawback per se, I did feel that the arrow buttons could have been bigger.
You can manually turn on and off, and adjust the intensity of the backlighting feature through the keyboard (Fn + F6) - a very handy feature indeed. There is also a dedicated button for ejecting the optical drive as well a button for inputting the Rupee currency symbol (Alt + Ctrl + 5).
The trackpad has a smooth texture and is generally responsive. The mouse buttons replicate the soft touch feel of the keys - just about the right level of softness - and are also responsive.
The Dell XPS 15z features a dual core Intel 2nd generation Core i7-2640M 2.80-GHz processor, 8GB DDR3 RAM, Intel HD graphics and Nvidia GeForce GT 525M 2GB graphics card, and a 750GB (7200 RPM) hard drive.
The 15z might not offer a large number of ports, but it does make up for it by providing for a varied level of functionality within the constraint of the number of ports offered. The laptop's left side has a HDMI port, Display port, USB/eSATA combo port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, and a multi-card reader. On the right side of the chassis are located the slot-loading optical drive and headphone and microphone jacks. The power connector and Gigabit Ethenet port are located at the rear of the laptop - in my opinion a very handy design choice. The Dell laptop also features Wi-Fi 802.11 n and Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connectivity.
More details can be seen on this review's "Specifications" page.
The Dell XPS 15z comes pre-installed with Windows 7 Home Premium Edition. In terms of the installed software on this laptop, you will find the generic Dell software such as Dell SyncUP, Dell DataSafe Online, Dell Stage and its accompanying components, Dell Support Centre, and Dell Webcam Central.
Also included in the pre-installed software set are the Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition, McAfee Internet Security Suite trial edition, FastAccess facial recognition software, Roxio Creator Starter Edition and Skype.
The Dell XPS 15z recorded a score of 137 on the Worldbench 6 benchmark, one of the highest scores we have seen in recent times - the only other unit that came closest to this score was the Dell Vostro 3450. Getting through most processor and memory intensive processes, let alone your daily home and office productivity chores, should be a walk in the park for this laptop. During synthetic testing, the laptop's hard disk recorded an average read speed of 95.0 MB/s and the laptop recorded a PC Vantage score of 8983.
The laptop uses Nvidia's Optimus technology which allows the system to switch between using the integrated and discrete graphics options as and when required. As such we ran the 3D Mark 06 test when the system was using only integrated and only discrete graphics - when using only Intel graphics, the system notched up a score of 4502, while using only the GT 525M card, the system scored 7376. Also keep in mind that while you might feel awed at the 2GB of graphics RAM included in this system, that feature by itself doesn’t result in a performance boost.
When benchmarking FarCry 2 at 1366x768, DirectX 10 mode, AA 2x, and 'Ultra High' settings, the average frame rate recorded stood at 36.14 FPS. Running games shouldn't be that tricky a task for this machine - do keep in mind that playing the most recent titles should be done whilst keeping details and resolution slightly pulled to the lower-to-medium spectrum of settings, so as to enjoy an optimum gaming experience. Moreover, do keep in mind that prolonged gaming can heat up the system.
You will have no problems whatsoever watching both 720p and 1080p HD videos. However, Dell could have done a better job with the accompanying audio. Other than having the rather over-sized fancy audio grilles, the audio output is pretty standard - the volume levels are appropriately loud for a small to mid-sized room, and as it to be expected on built in speakers the output lacks bass. As always, listening through a headphone would be the best option.
The Dell laptop does heat up to quite an extent under prolonged and intense use - you will notice the heat at the base of the laptop, towards the top areas that are close to the exhaust vents. You don’t feel this heat to that extent on the palmrest area - the left side of the palmrest, as with the rest of the base, does get slightly warm to the touch though. On the plus side, if you are doing some regular tasks like browsing or listening to music or editing documents, the 15z does not heat up. Under normal usage, the laptop gave a better account of itself in the system noise levels area - under more intense use, and in an comparatively quiet environment, you can distinctly hear the sound of the workings of the exhaust fans.
The laptop's eight-cell battery lasted for an hour and seventeen minutes through one of our battery tests, at high performance mode, and having the wireless internet mode enabled. For a laptop having the technical specs as this unit does, this is a standard result- given this result, it's always advisable to use this laptop in an area where there is a nearby power outlet, so as to have the laptop charged whenever necessary. Having said that, you should be able to extract around 3 odd hours out of the 15z's battery - at a conservative power scheme - for doing lighter every-day work such as browsing the web and listening to music.
Just as with the previous Dell unit we reviewed, the Inspiron 15R, the entire base of the 15z forms a single cover slot, and this entire cover will have to be taken off to access the laptop's innards. Consequently, in case you are thinking of upgrading this unit, that task is better left to the folks at Dell, and is not an activity that I would encourage regular users to engage in. This is a poor design choice, and Dell could have really provided for a easier access option in this laptop, especially given its price tag.
This unit does tend to heat up after prolonged use, with some of the heat making its way onto some sections of the palmrest area - a point to keep in mind for users who plan to use it on their laps in a non air-conditioned environment. Moreover, while I do like the overall design, the option of having excluded a dedicated numpad in favour of oversized audio grills, which at the end of the day don't really give that great a performance either, was rather ill conceived - I do value form, but only as long as it doesn’t sacrifice on functionality. Also, Dell doesn’t allow you an easy access to the innards, which given this units price tag, should have been an included feature, and one which would have been much appreciated.
Having said all of that this is one solid performer. Not only does it deliver on the performance we were expecting of such a unit, but its streamlined minimalist design and build quality are also both top notch. While I certainly do have a few misgivings on this unit, and that does bring the 15z's overall score down, it's still a very good system that will meet your requirements, whether it is for work of for home - all the better if its in an air conditioned environment. If you are however also looking to spend on a smaller economical scale, you can buy the lower spec'd version of the XPS 15z (which sells for Rs. 70,800) or even opt for the Dell Vostro 3450 unit (sells for around Rs. 60,000).